Not Quite Finding Nemo: A Review of “Under the Same Moon”

Judith Mahoney Pasternak Mar 26, 2008

La Misma Luna/Under the Same Moon
Directed by Patricia Riggen
Creando Films/Potomac Pictures, 2008

As long as Hollywood has existed, it’s reveled in sentimental accounts of mother-and-child reunions, father-and-child reunions, and epic searches leading to the reunions. The stories needn’t be realistic and usually aren’t; the lost children needn’t even be human; they just have to be adorable—think Finding Nemo or E.T., or the entire career of Shirley Temple.

La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon) sits almost squarely in that tradition, except that it’s rooted in the all-too-real facts of life for this country’s undocumented immigrants, specifically those from Mexico and Central America.

It begins in a small Mexican town not far from the Texas border, where smuggling people into the United States is big business. Even eight-year-old Carlitos (Adrian Alonso) works for Doña Carmen (Carmen Salinas), “La Coyota,” the local immigration broker. On Sundays, Carlitos goes to the only pay phone in town and waits for his mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo), to call. He’s been doing it for four years, ever since she left him with her mother (Angelina Peláez) and went to Los Angeles as a customer of Doña Carmen’s. She plans to send for him as soon as she’s saved up enough money; until then, she says, at least they can both look up at the same moon. When Carlitos’ grandmother dies suddenly, he decides to go to Los Angeles and find Rosario—at the same time as Rosario, fired arbitrarily from her housekeeping job, is deciding to go back to Mexico to be with Carlitos.

The movie is the story of their search for each other—but the obstacles they face are the conditions of life for the undocumented. When Rosario’s Anglo employer fires her suddenly and refuses to pay her for the half week Rosario has worked, she sneeringly challenges Rosario to complain to the police. As Carlitos makes his way north, he finds work picking tomatoes that have been sprayed with chemicals so toxic that one worker collapses after accidentally brushing his face with his contaminated hands. And over all of them—Rosario, Carlitos, and the people he meets along the way—hangs the constant threat of la migra, the Immigration and Naturalization Service agents who can arrest them, detain them, or send them back to Mexico.

What La Misma Luna does have in common with the long line of parent-child search movies is the attractiveness of the central characters. Kate del Castillo’s Rosario is both beautiful and good, and Adrian Alonso’s Carlitos is as adorable as Shirley Temple ever was. So if you ask whether the film is as politically explicit as Indypendent readers might want it to be, the answer is no. If you ask whether it shamelessly tugs at your heartstrings, the answer is yes. If you ask whether this reviewer cried like a baby at the end—you bet.

La Misma Luna is currently playing at the Angelika Film Center.

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